I’ve been dreaming for months now about being lost, unable to find my way home, wandering along highways—overpasses and underpasses that wind in and around urban areas—streets that make no geographical sense to me. In these dreams, I’m disoriented, unable to understand direction, unable to make meaning from my surroundings, unable to map my place in the world.
I think these dreams offer insight into my struggle regarding memoir writing—suggest why I currently feel stuck in what should be the muck and mire, grit and grime of it—the detail that isn’t.
In fact, my childhood was largely a story of lostness, of disconnect, of putting one foot in front of the other—picking it up—putting it down—picking it up again—but never getting anywhere—never going places—never arriving.
To remedy this, I’ve been reading lots of memoirs, trying to teach myself how best to write one and realizing repeatedly in that process that what I need most is memory. Without it, I can’t write a book-length account of my past. I simply can’t recall enough detail.
For me, the past lacks particulars—lacks shape and size. Is the story wide or narrow? Thick or thin? Who made what happen on which day? What were they wearing? I don’t know how to untangle truth. I don’t know how to identify detail that’s lost to me in a pit of vague and void—the blank between Godfather–and God, the Father.
This may have something to do with the fact that I’ve spent much of my life in a dissociative fog—split off from myself and disconnected from the people around me. I’ve experienced myself as largely un-time, un-space, un-all-the-particulars-I’ve-lived. I’ve existed in some no-man’s-land of nothing, nowhere, nobody.
Perhaps, I learned this behavior when placed in an incubator at birth, separated from my identical twin, lost to her, alone. No one touched me. No one held me. No one comforted or consoled me. I was incubated from the world—walled off by glass—lifting and drifting from my missing me—my mirror me.
This behavior continued throughout my childhood. I sat on a couch in our living room, often not seeing or hearing the world around me, unaware of color, texture, sound—barely noticing the FBI agents knocking down the door.
Taking daddy away.
It’s mostly the “away” that I remember—lost in my mother’s incessant talk of Jesus saving people from their sins—her praying for my mafia father.
Someone would ask—“What were you thinking?
“Where did you go?”
There was a blank, a gap, an empty space, not noticed, not known—an unlived space, a rupture that remains unremembered.
This, I suspect, is the problem I face when writing a memoir. I face the gap, the black hole, the place where memory should be but isn’t, the vacant space/event horizon, empty and alone.
As such, I now don’t know how to deal with what was, what wasn’t. Now the past grates and chafes at me—the chip and chew of its rough edges—unloved, unlived, un-everything that matters.
How do I map this place I haven’t been? How do I name my own coordinates—the intersection of God and mob, where only I exist?
Memory places a particular person in a specific past.
How do I map a past I largely haven’t lived?
How do I create a cartography of Kathy, when Kathy is—only—always—never—not?
How do I map this gap, the void between God and mob?
Note: If you are new to my blog, you might like to know that I am writing a memoir and blogging about growing up in an organized crime family. (The post you’ve just read is part of that series.) For a list of my memoir posts, click here. If you are interested in reading any of my protected posts, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or let me know in the comments below, and I will gladly share the password with you.